Iraq: US-Kurdish tandem, disputed lands and strength of PMF

Iraq: US-Kurdish tandem, disputed lands and strength of PMF

Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 30

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

Along with support of the Kurdish forces - SDF/PYD/YPG - in Syria, the US, in its plans to redraw the map of the region at the junction of the four Middle East countries, in recent months has increased its activity in Iraq, solving two tasks in parallel: to strengthen the position of its ally Erbil, and minimize the influence of its enemy Iran.

While the Kurds of Syria are being supported to establish an Iraqi-type autonomy, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Washington will have to make the most powerful Kurdish parties to bridge their differences and unite (without this condition nothing would be possible to do), and partially or fully transfer the oil of Kirkuk under the control of Erbil to create the economic foundations for a future state.

And here it is - the two ruling parties of the Kurdistan region – the eternal rivals for leadership in the Kurdish issue - intend to sign a four-year agreement, outlining the main political positions in an effort to stabilize Kurdistan and strengthen its position in the region.

The main points of the agreement between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP), according to regional media, include issues of joint management, decision-making, relations with Baghdad, Kirkuk and disputed territories, as well as relations with neighboring countries, especially Iran and Turkey.

“We shouldn’t have two policies: the policy of KDP towards Iran and the policy of PUK towards Iran. We don’t want to have two policies - the policy of PUK towards Turkey and the policy of KDP towards Turkey,” said one of the leaders of PUK to Rudaw information agency.

“If, based on this understanding, we can figure out a common view on these issues, we will have the opportunity to play bigger role in the region,” he said.

Exciting developments are also happening around Kirkuk. Both the US and the Federal government in Baghdad are trying to change the military balance of power in the disputed province.

The US has developed a new security framework for the disputed province of Kirkuk, said last week a source who wished to remain anonymous. He told Kurdish news source BasNews that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad held a meeting with representatives of ethnic communities in Kirkuk to discuss the matter.

The key identity of this framework will be involvement of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces into the process of provision of security in the province and their deployment around the city together with the Iraqi army.

Almost the same day, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi ordered the withdrawal of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces, which were created and trained by the US, from Kirkuk, replacing it with the 61st Brigade of the Iraqi army.

It is worth of noting that a strong anti-sectarian culture and non-involvement into political matters are key characteristics of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces.

Press center of the Joint Operations Command said in a statement that the brigade sent to Kirkuk as a replacement is not part of the Presidential Guard, which consists mainly of Kurds and Peshmerga.

Thus, the Kurdish forces with the assistance of the United States may reappear in the disputed province after they were ousted from there by the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in October 2017.

Kirkuk with its oil fields will be of key importance for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan as it provides almost half of the revenues of the autonomy. But Baghdad, too, does not want to give up such a tasty morsel.

However, the issue of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil, which will determine who will control Kirkuki oil, is a kind of a time bomb. It is not for nothing that the parties have several times postponed the decision on the status of the disputed territories.

The severity of the problem became evident when PUK has recently raised the Kurdish flags over its headquarters in Kirkuk, causing tensions between the Kurds and other ethnic groups in the multinational city, as well as between the Kurdish Autonomy and Baghdad, right up to the Iraqi army threatening to use force.

In such situation, it is very important what forces will physically control the disputed territories at the time when their ownership will be defined by political or other means.

Baghdad feels a threat posed by the tandem of Americans with the Kurds, and decided to take counter measures.

A few days ago, Sairoon Parliamentary Bloc submitted a bill to the Iraqi Parliament named “Law against Foreign Military Deployments in Iraq” that would require all foreign military personnel to leave the country, Anadolu Agency reported. If passed, the bill would require all foreign military deployments — including troops and advisers — to leave the country within one year after its ratification.

Without the American support, it will be hard for the Kurds to speak with Baghdad on an equal footing.

As for curbing Iranian influence, there still remains an armed neutrality between the Americans and Iran-empowered PMF. The danger of PMF for the Americans is not only that it is an organization created by the sectarian principle, and not so much that they got a good combat experience in the fight against the IS, but that the PMF is legitimate and integrated into the structure of the Iraqi security forces.

The Americans can do nothing about PMF unless they decide to play hardball.

For instance, the United States told Baghdad that it would not interfere if Israel attacks Iranian positions in Iraq, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently during his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad.

The reason? Last September Iran allegedly deployed its short-range missiles in Iraq.

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